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The KITT hits the Man: US Congress urged to OK robo-car trials

Democracy being what it is, some folks are opposed

By Shaun Nichols in San Francisco

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More than one hundred organizations called on US congress to fast-lane legislation on self-driving cars.

In an open letter, dated Monday, to party-leading Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) the 108 companies and advocacy groups ask that congress speed up its consideration and passage of parallel self-driving car laws in both the House and the Senate.

The two laws (AV START in the Senate and SELF DRIVE in the House) would outline the regulations and requirements for automakers to test self-driving cars on public roads throughout the US.

The two bills would create a single, federal level guideline for testing autonomous vehicles and give individual states a basis to form their own regulations on.

Backers of the letter, ranging from auto giants General Motors to tech names like Qualcomm and Lyft and political groups MADD and American Council for the Blind, say that, if enacted, the bill would allow for autonomous driving systems to become safer and eventually help those with disabilities travel by car.

"Development and eventual deployment of advanced vehicle technologies have the potential to significantly reduce the number of crashes and at the same time expand mobility options for persons with disabilities, seniors, and those who require access to more affordable transportation," the letter reads.

"Further, the decrease in crashes will mean fewer roadway backups, decreasing both congestion and carbon emissions from existing vehicles."

In the Senate, AV START is set to be brought to the floor for a final vote during this Spring's session (the Senate lets out for the Summer recess on Memorial Day weekend.) The group is hoping to have the bill passed and sent to the White House for final approval.

Not everyone is happy about the bills. A counter-effort by a group called Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety asks the same two Senate party leaders to re-write the bill with tighter regulations and safety requirements on both the cars themselves and their testing systems.

"Essential and urgent improvements are needed especially because of new information contradicting industry assertions about the time frame for the development and deployment of driverless cars," the groups says.

"Baseless and exaggerated predictions about the readiness and reliability of driverless car technology are propelling legislation that significantly strips the current federal regulatory system of its appropriate authority and oversight thereby endangering the safety of everyone – both motorists and non-motorists." ®

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